Every now and then an article speaks so deeply to who we are as an educational institution that it warrants further discussion. As we anticipate our students’ arrival back on campus from Fall Fall Family Weekend, we reflect on David Brooks’ recent piece in the NY Times titled, The Essential Skills for Being Human.
Hands down the most powerful part of our Fall Family Weekend festivities are our parent/teacher conferences. As we sit in conferences with parents, whether as an advisor, a Learning Specialist, or a classroom teacher, we find ourselves talking mostly about our student’s journey through adolescence, not grades or test scores. We talk about their social growth, how they are managing the stresses of life in the dorm, on teams, academics. We share with parents moments where we see kindness flowing out of them and into the community. We talk about how they are being seen in our community, and how they are helping others feel seen. We discuss opportunities for our students to connect with each other in pursuit of community.
In his essay, Brooks writes about his evolution through adulthood and his growing appreciation for the importance of connection throughout all layers of society. He writes,
“People need social skills. The real process of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete actions well: being curious about other people; disagreeing without poisoning relationships; revealing vulnerability at an appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view…People want to connect. Above almost any other need, human beings long to have another person look into their faces with love and acceptance. The issue is that we lack practical knowledge about how to give one another the attention we crave. Some days it seems like we have intentionally built a society that gives people little guidance on how to perform the most important activities of life.”
When we think about Proctor’s mission, our purpose, our why, we realize that our work extends well beyond the formal classroom. In our relationships with each other and our students, we seek to provide the exact guidance Brooks identifies as missing in society. He refers to those who are able to build these skills in others as “illuminators”; they are individuals who can share their gift of attention, accompaniment, the art of conversation, the asking of big questions, and can stand in others’ standpoints. When we look around at the adults that make up the Proctor community, and not just the teaching faculty, but all of the adults in the community, we see a remarkable number of illuminators. We see individuals who are so deeply committed to this community, and have seen the benefits of living in community in their own lives, that they innately know how to bring others alongside them.
Fall Family Weekend afforded those visiting campus a window into our work of building up our students as they, too, felt the intangible pull of being truly seen within a community. Our hope is that the lessons we teach our students flow out from Proctor into the greater world. May we each pursue an existence where our primary purpose is to be an illuminator of others, just as Brooks implores us to do.
“The illuminators offer the privilege of witness. They take the anecdotes, rationalizations and episodes we tell and see us in a noble struggle. They see the way we’re navigating the dialectics of life — intimacy versus independence, control versus freedom — and understand that our current selves are just where we are right now on our long continuum of growth...The really good confidants — the people we go to when we are troubled — are more like coaches than philosopher kings. They take in your story, accept it, but prod you to clarify what it is you really want, or to name the baggage you left out of your clean tale. They’re not here to fix you; they are here simply to help you edit your story so that it’s more honest and accurate. They’re here to call you by name, as beloved. They see who you are becoming before you do and provide you with a reputation you can then go live into.”
- Community and Relationships